The idea of sitting directly across from George Zimmerman would induce a visceral reaction in many. Yet this polarizing figure has numerous supporters as well—his first painting reportedly sold for $100,000 on eBay, though Zimmerman himself refuses to admit the final sale price. Art has nothing to do with that high cost; it is the man’s strange initiation into the cult of celebrity that fetched such a fee.
Zimmerman has not exactly done a great job at keeping a low profile. Sure, much of the attention trained on him is not of his doing. But since his infamous court case he’s become a public figure and appears to be enjoying the attention. Why else would he attempt to fight rapper DMX in a ‘celebrity’ boxing match (since called off) and join Twitter to publicly battle combatants and receive accolades?
Recently the Ghana-born journalist Derrick Ashong interviewed Zimmerman for Fusion. While Ashong is not unbiased in his assessment of the Floridian—read his statement below the interview—he conducted himself in a professional and humble manner. (Since I met Derrick nearly a decade ago at Harvard, I can vouch for his inquisitive and open-minded nature, as well as his incredibly inspirational presence behind a podium.)
Ashong has received criticism for even conducting such an interview. Why would a black man even want to be within ten feet of this killer? goes the sentiment. Yet Ashong always attempts to gaze beyond the polarizations, peel back the curtain of black and white to reveal the muddled and illuminating mixtures that define reality. What he found was a man lacking any sense of responsibility or remorse for his actions.
Watching the interview, Zimmerman partakes in a time-tested blend of false humility bordering on humblebragging decorated with religious sentimentalism. Let’s investigate a few of his statements.
When discussing how he responds to those who feel that Trayvon Martin may actually have been a thug and deserved to die, Zimmerman turned to faith, responding,
I believe that there’s one judge. And that’s who we should all answer to.
Ashong immediately brought up the Christian commandment thou shalt not kill. Zimmerman was quick to reply.
Realizing that the only judge is the Lord. When I meet him, I’ll find out how he feels. I hold myself 100% accountable. I just put it all in God’s hands.
Later in the interview, Zimmerman tries another tactic, stating
We all know that Jesus Christ was the only man without sin.
He goes on to claim that he is not without sin and is working on himself. He reiterates this point when claiming that he is trying to
Live the most Christ-like that I can.
I don’t want to argue the legality of Zimmerman’s case or invoke the Florida legislation that even made this situation possible. What I find most interesting, though not surprising, is the quick allegiance one gives to religion in times of trouble. Zimmerman is using his faith as a shield and buffer, absolving him from ultimately being held accountable for his actions.
Let’s look at the two basic tenets at hand. First, we are dealing with a religion that as a starting point states that we, as human beings, are born in sin, and no matter what we do in this world, we can never possibly escape this fate. Guilt is an inevitable conclusion when treating every person like they’ve done something wrong simply by being alive (and also offers an explanation for the often-criticized ‘stop and frisk’ policies—that someone is guilty until proven innocent in embedded in our religious outlook).
The next logical step in this mindset is that only by living and pious and, in Zimmerman’s words, ‘Christ-like’ existence can you ascend to heaven—if you were born in sin, it makes sense that you can only be cleansed of it after you perish. The personification of a god that you meet after you die who will then judge you might make cause you to peer over your shoulder on occasion, but also acts a convenient failsafe for when you stumble along the way.
Religion has long served as an opportune scapegoat for human actions. Whether discussing the above formula or the wily karma that treats life in a similar fashion—you were born the son of a millionaire because in a past life you were a saint; you are suffering now because you previously killed a herd of goats—turning to the unprovable comfort of faith is easier than investigating the lonely reality of responsibility.
As global cultures and ideas converged in the twentieth century, moral relativism demanded that we respect one another’s faiths. That is altogether different from analyzing how different ideologies affect our actions. As Sam Harris noted in The Moral Landscape, in this new millennium we have the opportunity, on both cultural and neurological grounds, to question archaic mindsets and practices that cause great harm. This notion that we are tainted creatures from the outset who only answer for ourselves after we die is one fitting example.